Aviary Enjoyment

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For some reason I enjoy watching birds.  I never really had the chance in St. Louis to do so.  Where we lived there were not too many trees and there were not too may birds that would sit so close.  Here in our home I can sit at my kitchen table and watch hummingbirds.  They are only 24 inches away from my face.  They are lovely creatures.

Right now as I am typing a Cardinal swoops down onto the feeder that is just a few more feet out in the yard.  I am not too sure why they are so attractive to me?  The beauty?  The variety?  The freedom?  Perhaps it is my lingering boyhood desire to fly?  Whatever the reason I sit here with my daughter and my coffee and I watch the birds.  They are a gentle reminder to me of my place before God.  There it is!  This is perhaps the greatest reason I love to watch them.  They are a gentle reminder to me that God is God and even I am his creature.  I holding my daughter watching the birds.

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4th Sermon for St. John

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Samuel G. Beltz

August 18, 2011

Sermon:  Isaiah 51, Romans 11-12, Matthew 16

                Do you remember Abraham and Sara?  Do you remember their story?  God promised them that they would be the father and mother of a great nation that could not be counted.  Out of two very old people who thought that they were done a ready to die God made the nation of Israel.

            Isaiah is telling Israel their story again.  God is about to destroy Israel because of their unfaithfulness, but there is a remnant.  Within Israel there are still people who fear, love, and trust in God.  God is speaking through Isaiah to tell those people to remember.  “Remember what I did even through Abraham and Sara.  Remember that Rock that you were hewn out of.”

            Do you remember Peter?  He confesses Jesus to be the Christ but then betrays Jesus.  Did you hear what Jesus tells him?  Jesus says to him, you are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church. 

            I am not too sure if Jesus is hear speaking of Peter as the Rock, or if Jesus is calling himself the Rock, or if it is the words of Peter which are the Rock, because Jesus does tell Peter that what he has confessed is of the Father and not men.  I think it is helpful if we think of all three.  Upon Jesus, Peter, and Peter’s godly confession the Church will be built.

            Remember the Rock upon which you are built—Jesus Christ.  He came as a little child.  Isaiah tells us that there was nothing about him that was attractive.  In-fact, he was despised and considered cursed.  And yet even through him God worked amazingly. 

            Remember the Rock upon which you are built—Peter.  I do not think we remember the lives and faith of the saints as we ought.  Remember Peter and all the apostles.  They were fishermen and tax collectors.  They were men of low esteem and no great talent, wisdom, or promise.  But through them, and even through Peter, God worked to build his church.

            Remember the Rock upon which you are built—the Confession of Peter.  How insignificant this confession seems.  It did not really seem to do any great work for Peter and the Apostles back then, and sometimes today it seems rather unimpressive.  Do you remember this parable from Matthew 13?

 

“He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’”

Yes, there are many times when the Kingdom of Heaven seems frail and weak and the King seems unfaithful to his promises.  This is perhaps the greatest point of tension we are currently experiencing here at St. John.  Perhaps many of you feel like the gates of hell are overcoming you.  I have heard many of you, and seen your thoughts in motion.  You are concerned for the life of this congregation.  You are worried about its size, you are worried about what this place looks like, you are worried it will not be financially solvent and that it will go bankrupt, you are worried it will die because there are no youth, you are worried that the identity of this congregation will remain a mystery to the larger community.  I think many of these fears and worries are legitimate because they might actually happen.  Because of their reality we fear that God has somehow forgotten us, that he has abandoned us, that we are left alone to defend ourselves from the world and death.  We are left in the very same place the author of Psalm 77 was when he wrote:

 3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
   I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.[b]
4 You kept my eyes from closing;
   I was too troubled to speak.
5 I thought about the former days,
   the years of long ago;
6 I remembered my songs in the night.
   My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

 7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
   Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
   Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
   Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

Your fears are legitimate.  This congregation might never be as large as it once was.  We might never have a large youth program, we might never have a beautiful building, we might be financially secure or we might go bankrupt.  We might never have any identity in Oskaloosa.  All you fears are legitimate to be sure and they all just might happen (Pause), but remember Abraham and Sara. 

God promised them parenthood, and gave them Isaac.  Out of Isaac came Jacob and from Jacob came all the tribes of Israel.  Remember Israel, God sent them into captivity but promised to bring them out.  So he went into Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria and brought his people home.  He then sent his Son to make all things righteous, and when all Israel rejected him and nailed him to a cross, even as Jesus lie dead in a tomb, God was faithful to his promise and raised Jesus from the dead.  All authority in heaven and on Earth is His, and he handed the keys of His Kingdom to Peter and the Apostles.

Dear people today we hear again, even despite your fears that somehow God has abandoned you and left you alone to figure out how to survive, He is here.  He is here molding you into the body of Christ.  He has not abandoned you or left you.  He is here so I am here.  And I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained Servant of the Word, announce the Grace of God unto all of you!  However, if that is not enough for you…

(Face the altar with waiting Bread and Wine)

            When I consider this, I can barely speak.

Sermon for the Baptism of Charlotte Evangeline Beltz, Aug. 14th 2011

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Samuel G. Beltz

Sermon for the Baptism of Charlotte Evangeline Beltz, August 14th 2011

Isaiah 43, Romans 9-11:24, Matthew 15:21-28

 

Read Romans 9-11:24 from the pulpit.

What I wanted to do immediately after the Baptism of Charlotte was to take the baptismal basin through the main isle there and fling water upon you all and as I was doing that say, “Remember your Baptism and be thankful.”  But then I asked myself the question, “why would I do that?  What is Baptism that it is to be remembered?”  When I was reading through Romans this week, I found a great answer.

In what I just read Paul is not speaking about Baptism when he tells the Romans that they have been grafted into the tree, or at least it does not seem to be his first thought.  For some time in the Epistle Paul has been evangelizing the Romans.  He has been reminding them how they too are now heirs of the treasures of Israel.  How they are included into the kingdom by their faithfulness to and belief in the God and Father of Jesus Christ.  Paul’s primary concern is this, so that the Romans might not become arrogant but always be thankful and humble toward God and one another.  They are to be thankful and humble because they are grafted into the tree not through anything they have done but through the activity of God the Father to graft them onto the tree.

Is God still doing this activity of grafting?  Yes.  Where?  Here.  We have all just witnessed again the mighty power of God.  He has worked here in these waters.  He has done the work we see him do in Jesus Christ in our Gospel lesson.  A woman and her daughter who had no right to the treasures of Israel are brought in according to the mother’s faithfulness in Jesus Christ and that He was the Son of God and could have mercy and help.  She had faith that this Jesus Christ was the one spoken of by Moses and the Prophets.  She heard of his mighty works and believed.  It was the activity of God in and through His Son that led her to cling to Jesus Christ.  So too all of you gather here.  Cling to the activity of God revealed here in these Baptismal waters. 

Today in Baptism You Charlotte Evangeline are brought into the kingdom of Heaven.  You are given the treasures promised by God.  Faith clings to the activities of God.  God has given us these waters as a sign and a specific place so that we might even see and remember what happened there.   What has happened to little Charlotte today has happened to all of you.  Your Baptism is the work of God to graft you into the tree of Salvation which has grown up out of the Stump of Jesse—Jesus Christ

You Charlotte Evangeline are now an heir of the Promises of God according to faith in the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  You are now a branch grafted into the tree of life.  You are now a child of God.  Today, I will not fling water upon you all.  Nevertheless, remember your Baptism this day.  And in the light of this Baptism, let us all continually be thankful for our own, and let us be constant in prayer that we might be kept in the faith of our Baptism until we inherit eternal life.  Amen.

Second Sermon for St. John Ev. Lutheran

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Samuel G. Beltz

August 6, 2011

Sermon Text: Job 38, Romans 10, Matthew 14.22-33

 

The God of the Whirlwind.  Who is this God?  Job has endured so much at the hands of this God.  This God has let Satan run wild in Job’s life.  In fact, as I read Job, it seems as if this God and the Satan sort of blend together.  Even Job seems to think this.  Job does not question Satan, He questions God about what is happening.  Then God answers Job.

What is interesting is what God does NOT say when he speaks.  He does not say, “You have the wrong guy Job.  You are barking up the wrong tree. Look to Satan, He is the one responsible for this.  It is not me. My hands are clean.”  No, God does not say that.  He takes full responsibility and asks Job, “Who are you to question me?”

So often, I fear, I have tamed God by my speech and thought of him, which does affect my action in this life.  Here is just one example.  In the face of the death of a loved one I have said, “God needed them more in heaven more than here.”  What is that?  What am I trying to do when I say that?  I think I am trying to speak how I would like God to speak.   I want our God to be safe, understandable, clear, comforting.  Rather than who he really reveals himself to be in Job.  I have had very recent struggles with this God. 

Just the other day my child was born to this world.  I began thinking before everything happened; “children and mothers still die in the midst of labor and delivery”.  While we, humans and modern medicine, are working to make this never happen it still happens.  There is no way to escape it.  Then I turned and looked at my wife who was about to give birth to my child and almost began to cry.    After a little while as I was lying there in the dark I started thinking of Joplin, Missouri, the floods in Iowa, the drought in Texas and other places, Katrina, Haiti, and the list goes on and on.  I thought, “What are you doing?  What kind of God are you that you would let these things happen?  Who are you that you have made all these things and people and then watch them be destroyed or destroy them yourself?”   Those questions screamed through my mind and I became terrified because I ran into the God of the whirlwind, “I am God, who are you?”  And at that, I was utterly destroyed.  I could not say anything.  All I did was cry out for Mercy from this God because all he seems to want to do is destroy me, my wife, my child.  Then, in the midst of all my fear, anger, and confusion about this God I started reading the Gospel lesson.

I read about this Jesus walk out of the Whirlwind, across the water and say to his disciples, “O you of little faith, don’t be afraid?” 

“What, just stop being afraid?  Aren’t you supposed to tell me everything will be safe and fine Jesus?  That is sometimes the message we like to think Jesus brings.”  I am afraid though that is the message we humans would like Jesus to bring.  But, Jesus just says to his terrified disciples.  “Don’t be afraid.”

Jesus can say that to his disciples you see.  He can say that because He is the Son of the God who speaks out of the Whirlwind.  That God who spoke to Job so mercilessly out of the whirlwind sent his Son to redeem His people and bring them into a new Kingdom.  The disciples in the boat realize this when He steps off the water, Peter in tow, and everything stops.  The whirlwind goes away and the disciples see clearly the one who speaks on behalf of God.  The wonderment of the disciples that led them to say a few chapters earlier, “Who is this that the winds and the waves obey Him?” is now no longer wonder it is this, “Surely, you are the Son of God.”  There seems to be no mystery about who Jesus’ is.

I say that because Jesus’ identity has been something of a question mark to this point in the Gospel of Matthew.  The disciples and the Pharisees seem to be equally confused about who Jesus is.  This point in the story, our Gospel lesson for the day, is very important because the disciples finally seem to see Jesus for who He is.  He is the Son of God.  What happens after this little episode? 

The disciples go on to enjoy great confidence in Jesus Christ.  They go on believing Him to be the Son of God but they seem to have their own ideas of what being the Son of God means.  A little later on in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus predicts that He will be handed over to the chief priests and put to death, but that after three days He would be raise from the dead.  To this Peter said to Jesus, “surely this will not happen to you Lord.”  Peter probably thought   Toward that statement Jesus responds, “Satan, you do not have in mind the things of God but the things of men.”  Yikes!  What I realize is that as a poor miserable sinner I stand with Peter and not Jesus in much of what I think, say, and do.  I realize I want a safe, tame God rather than the one who is revealed in Jesus Christ.  That is because I would rather have a safe and tame existence getting along nicely with things.  After all, look at what being at odds with the kingdoms of the world and Satan got Jesus! 

If you think following this Jesus Christ will be safe, you are wrong.  Peter finds out, and so do we as the story goes on, that being the Son of God is not safe nor is following him.   Jesus is handed over to the chief priests.  He is betrayed into their hands by one of his own disciples.  Peter denies him, and all the disciples abandon him.  No, being the Son of God was not safe.  It led Jesus to death on a Cross.  But where do we fit into all this?

 Now, we say we believe this Jesus to be the Son of God as well, and we call him our Lord just as Peter and the other disciples.  We gather together here to worship Him, praise Him, Sing to Him, and hear His story.  And finally we will eat His Body and Blood.  What a declaration that is!  In that moment this Jesus Christ will immediately lay his hands upon us and again make us his own if we have strayed away from him.  Is it safe?  No.  But as our Lord says, “Do not be afraid.”

We hit those words from Jesus again.  “Do not be afraid.”  Jesus did not say these words so that I might make them into some very bad analogy like, “Jesus calms the storms in your life, don’t be afraid.”  Nope, Jesus sure might not do that.  But, what He DID do was walk across the Sea of Galilee to his disciples floating in a boat.  It was in the middle of a whirlwind.  The waves were beating the boat because the winds were strong.  Jesus walks to them and getting into the boat the winds and seas become still.  Everything stops.  Jesus can do this you see.  He has authority over the wind and the waves.  He has the authority of His Father to set things right in the world.  And so He began doing that.  And by his resurrection revealed He did have the authority to say and do the things He did.  Then he gave his Holy Spirit to those who believed and sent them out to be witnesses of this God and what He had done in Jesus.

That same Holy Spirit has gathered you here today.  That same Holy Spirit has given me the authority to tell you this.  This Jesus Christ is returning for you.  Until He comes there will be many storms and whirl winds.  There will be floods and droughts.  There will be sickness and death.  There will economic highs and lows, there will be divisions, bruised egos, and anguish.  This world is in labor pains, so He has given you this, a New Testament in His Blood.  Where He again immediately grabs you and tells you, “You are with me, do not be afraid.”

Charlotte Evangeline Beltz

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I think my previous post was accurate.  It is hard to know how to feel, think, and act until you meet your child for the first time.  See her, hold her. 

Fatherhood and Fatherhood

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Tomorrow, unless she decides on making an appearance today, I will be able to hold my baby girl in my hands.  I am a little confused on what to think and how to fell.  I think this is the case because all I have to go on is the advice, counsel, and experiences of others.  Now, that is not unhelpful in any way.  It only leaves me thinking, will I experience the same?  Will I feel the same?  If I am not is there something wrong?

I have woken myself up the last few days in a row thinking of her.  She is, after all, in bed with me and my wife.  I wake up.  I look at her and her mother.  Not that I can stare into my child’s eyes yet but I look in her general direction, down.  I think, “This is the most strange, amazing, and dumbfounding time and experience I can remember going through” and she is not even born.

Yes, it is hard to put words to it.  At least, words that can capture what is going on inside my mind and heart, let alone what is going on inside my wife.  Nervous?  Yes, but that seems inadequate.  Joyful?  Yes, but again inadequate.  I imagine this might be one of the times when the speech and words of men fail when they consider deeply what is taking place.  Life begets life.  Is this a moment when the image of God breaks back into this dark world?  I think so.  I think this might be a moment when and where the Lord of all reminds His humble servants of who He is.  He reminds us of the contingency of all things upon His Being.  He reminds us that He is the Ultimate Shaping Reality for life and thought.  I remember Job 38 when I think of these things.

“1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

I thought this was a good representation of what a child might think of a whirlwind.

2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action[a] like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
9when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
11and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

12“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
15From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.”

This reminder to Job carries on for some time in the account.  It continues and Job speaks in 42:

1Then Job answered the LORD and said:
2“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?  Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6therefore I despise myself,
and repent[a] in dust and ashes.’”

Yes, a whirlwind and things to wonderful for me seem to be a little more in line with what is taking place.  God is in this way demonstrating his Majesty and Might.  He is doing what He wants in humanity but sustaining and continuing to provide for us.  He gives us our children.  He forms them by his hand.  Who is this God that he can even shape the flesh of humanity?  He is the Lord.

A Bust of a Symposium. And it hasn’t hapened yet!

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The St. Louis Symposium is a little over a month away and already it is a bust in my mind.  Here is why.  Having just graduated from St. Louis (that is I think I graduated even though I have not paid my final bill) I have a very clear account of just what kind of homiletical instruction goes on there.  Now, for sure, my account of things will be skewed.  I struggle with the lack of respect I have for the practical department instruction going on in St. Louis.  Sadly, this also makes me, more often than not, transgress the fourth commandment.  I am saying this for myself and anyone like me.  But still, the Symposium will be a bust.  Let us start with the title.

“Rediscovering the Art of Homiletics” This title seems adventuresome, brave, pioneering even.  However, in my mind, I ask “has the artfulness of homiletics gone someplace that it needs to be rediscovered?”  No.  It has not.  If there is one thing that is very apparent to me as I have seen and heard the homiletical noise from pulpits in my short life it is that artfulness is in no need of rediscovery when it comes to homiletics.  In-fact let us bury some of what we currently possess. 

As I see it there is no shortage of performance art, quivering voices, winsome laughter, visual aids, jokes, and/or stories that fill the time when a man speaks from the pulpit.  I have seen M&M’s and the worn out Life Saver used to death. I have seen Biblical Role Play (I can only handle attempts at reincarnating Paul or Moses so many times).  Passionate diatribes about the beauty of marriage where two persons come from the back wearing a Tux and Gown, this extends then to the violence of divorce where the couple has a fight in the middle of the sanctuary and storms out.  In my opinion formed by experience, let us bury some artfulness rather than rediscover any more.  But, what am I saying, and what am I not saying?

What I am not saying is that preaching is to strive for boredom.  I am not saying that at all.  Good presentation, clear speech, clear points, even interaction with the congregation, all these might be beneficial for the preacher and the hearer.  I am not saying preaching is to be boring.  I think what I am saying is that our preaching has become so artful that we no longer need and pointers on finding more ways to make it artful, especially from St. Louis Seminary.  After all, isn’t this a “Theological Symposium”?  Then let us find a new name to call it and let the presentations begin!

How about, “Rediscovering our reason for Preaching”?  This sounds like a good title which leads to what might be a hearty, fruitful discussion.  “Why do we preach anyway?”  I wonder if the practical theologians have had to answer that question?  I wonder if the Systematic Theologians have had to answer that question, because if this is a Theological Symposium, would it not behoove us to have a theological discussion?  Yes, I think it might.  What are the foundations for preaching in the first place?  And then, what is/are good answer to that question, if there is more than one.  To my mind this is a more fitting, more theological, discussion to be had.  Because I am convinced the artfulness of our preaching has increased to cover over the reality that many are lacking any good reasons for preaching in the first place.  I am afraid many are lacking a good reason because they might not have been given a good reason to preach in the first place.  I know most of my homiletical training had to do with Grammar, and properly color coding Law & Gospel within the body of writing.  Again, I am afraid this is inadequate, the instruction and the symposium, for where we are in the Lutheran Church and her preaching pastors.  In any case, we need no more art.  We abound with art.  We have a greater stockpile than New York and Paris combined.  Let us bury some and rediscover why any of us pastors might dare get in a pulpit on Sunday in the first place.

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